Monthly Archives: April 2013

Military Life is Not a Trial to be Endured, but an Adventure to be Lived!

laura marin“Think outside the box, take real risks and work together to make big bold commitments.” I’m 11 and this is my family way of life, this is our military life.

My Dad has military orders to go to Minnesota. “Cheese and sprinkles” is a Minnesota saying. That was the first thing that came to my mind when my parents told me about our new assignment; well, my family serves too. The only thing I could relate to Minnesota was the movie “Rio.” Winters are cold, very cold. Our previous assignment places have all been warm. From the hot Texas summers to the Caribbean breezes of Puerto Rico.

I don’t have everything figured out yet, but I feel incredibly lucky that I get to experience the world in a way that so many people only dream about. I have air in my lungs, a mighty God that loves me, the most wonderful family, two legs, and a bed to sleep in. I want to view my life as an adventure and my childhood as an asset.

Never having a hometown inspires me to be a citizen of the world. Being separated from my Dad makes me realize that time together as a family is to be valued. Being a military child makes me aware of choices and options available for me in the future.

I have been a military child all my life. We have been through so much. My military life has taught me how strong we could be as a family and how much love we have to give. It has taught us that laughing is less painful than crying, that a smile is worth more than gold. That this military life is not a trial to be endured, but an adventure to be lived. We are not an ordinary family with ordinary worries — we are something extraordinary.

I’m ready to make new friends and to fit in the land of the ten thousand lakes, maybe go for a dog sled ride one day, and of course I will need to hug my family a little tighter during winters now on. We will stand tall and face it all together.

Guest Post by Laura C. Marin, age 11, military child


Editor’s note: At the time of this posting, Laura’s family’s orders were changed from Minnesota to New York. Laura’s mom says: “Flexibility, what a great strength. Enough said!”

Photo courtesy of the Marin family

The Power of Volunteering

The power of volunteeringApril 21-27 is designated as National Volunteer Week and this year’s theme is “Celebrate Service.” The National Military Family Association is celebrating our volunteers, both past and present, who have made a profound contribution to the Association and the military families we serve. Today’s post is written by a volunteer about a volunteer, and is just one highlight of the great work all our volunteers do!

“Never be afraid to ask what you can do, because even if something seems really small, it can still help,” says Susan Reynolds, a military spouse and volunteer for the National Military Family Association. This philosophy, an unshakable optimism, and a genuine desire to contribute to her community keeps Susan fighting hard for military kids and families. She is committed to making sure that military kids, especially those with special needs, get the quality medical care they need and deserve.

Susan’s initiative started when her son was diagnosed with plagiocephaly, a condition defined by an asymmetrical distortion, or flattening, of one side of the skull. Her son needed a reshaping helmet, which she was told was not covered by TRICARE. The helmets can cost up to $5,000. Luckily, she and her husband were able to pay for it out of their savings account. However, she realized that not every military family could afford to do the same. “I don’t care what your rank is, that is a lot of money to come up with right away,” Susan says.

Even worse than the cost of the treatment was the uncertainty and delay Susan faced in getting her son properly diagnosed. “I was really given the runaround from the military treatment facility about TRICARE and what his course of treatment was,” Susan explains. Her experience convinced her that TRICARE and DoD can and must do better to ensure that military kids, especially those with special needs, are getting the care they need.

Susan soon became a tireless advocate for military kids and families. She worked closely with our Association’s Government Relations Department to understand TRICARE policy and how it should be changed. She founded support groups for military families with special needs children and met with Congressional staff members and other officials to share those families’ stories. During this time, while her husband deployed to Afghanistan, Susan’s home was hit by a tornado, but she never allowed herself to be distracted from her objective: to fight for military children.

Thanks in part to Susan’s efforts, Congress included a provision in the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act directing the Department of Defense to study TRICARE and its policies regarding care for kids. The provision, known as TRICARE for Kids, aims to develop and encourage health care practices addressing the specific needs of military children. “It was just so exciting to know that something I had worked on with the Association was passed,” Susan says. For her, knowing the President signed the bill that includes this provision is among her most rewarding and exciting achievements. She continues to work hard, however, to make sure that the results of the study reflect the real needs of military children and families.

To Susan, being a volunteer for the Association is her part time job. She enjoys reading, doing research, and keeping an eye on different issues happening in her local community and the greater military community. She never hesitates to talk about the Association and the people and organizations that she is involved with. She goes to key spouse meetings, to community blueprint meetings, talks to local nonprofits, and reports information associated with the military.

Susan will continue to work with the Association and to represent military families, as she wants to ensure people’s voices are being heard. She has received various awards and recognition  including one of the Air Force General’s coins. On more than one occasion, Susan was nominated as Air Force Spouse of the Year by different spouse magazines. Nevertheless, to her, knowing that she can make a difference and serve her community is the greatest reward.

Marlis Perez RiveraPosted by Marlis Perez Rivera, Volunteer with the National Military Family Association

Understanding deployment: books for military children

Understanding deployment: books for military childrenThere are many ways to help children deal with the stress they may be feeling due to the deployment of a parent. Suggestions such as keeping a journal, volunteering your time, or staying active with a sports team or hobby are fun ways to distract kids from what seems like a never-ending time in their life.

While staying busy does help school-aged children avoid dwelling on a parent being gone, how do you help younger children understand and cope with what they are feeling? Many families love reading fun books together; this time can also double as a great teaching moment to help young military kids.

Spring is here and it’s the perfect time to cozy up with your little one under a tree or in the park and enjoy one—or all—of our favorite deployment-related books geared towards children under the age of five.

The Kissing Hand, by Audrey Penn – This book helps children learn a coping skill when encountering a change or missing someone by connecting their love of family with a “token” – or kiss in the hand. This is one of several books in a series. The author wrote another book, A Kiss Goodbye, that helps young children process moving.

Over There, by Dorinda Williams – Written by Dorinda Williams at Zero To Three, this is a great book because families can download a version of the book, print it out, and then customize the story by using their own photographs. The activity book comes in a “daddy” version as well as a “mommy” version. Military families can order this book via Military OneSource.

The Invisible String, by Patrice Karst – Similar to The Kissing Hand, this book teaches kids how to deal with missing a parent by understanding that they are still connected to their parent via an “invisible string.” While not geared solely to military families, this touching book can help young children feel connected with deployed parents or other family members that are far away.

This is a short list of the many books military families have found helpful. What military-related children’s books do you recommend?

dustinPosted by Dustin Weiss, Youth Initiatives Deputy Director at the National Military Family Association

Moving in the Military From a Kid’s Point of View

Moving in the military from a kid's point of viewDo you enjoy moving? Some people might say no, but I love it!! Since I am a military child, I get the opportunity to live many different places, some of which people save all of their lives to get to.

I personally think that the best part of moving is getting to experience new cultures. I myself have lived in eight different places, in six different countries, and on three continents. Yes, it can be challenging to get adjusted, but I get used to it pretty easily. For example, in Africa, I had to get used to people eating with their hands, while sharing the same bowl. I know what you’re thinking, GROSS!!!! That’s what I thought too, but after some time I enjoyed doing it also. Here in Italy it was a bit easier to adjust because it is not a third world country. Trying to learn another language is still difficult though. Thankfully, the Italian people are helpful.

Being a military child gives me lots of opportunities. For example, last week I got to go on a field trip to Padova. We had the chance to go to Galileo’s Planetarium, the anatomical theater, and St. Anthony’s church. These are all places that people save up to go to, and by the time they have enough, they are walking with a cane. I am twelve, and I just got to go for the day. How cool is that?!?!?!?! In Mali, I got to go to Djenne, a big town in the north. There, we got to see the biggest mosque in Mali. For other people to get there, we’re talking fortunes!!! My family and I got to go there in our car for winter break.

Every time that I am about to leave a place to move to another I ask myself these questions. Will I make new friends, will I like my teacher, and will they have sports? When I get to the destination, I realize that I should not have been worried at all.

Last, but not least, whenever I move to a new place I get to try new foods. In France, it was the delicious escargot. In Mali it was definitely the moist sheep stuffed with couscous. Here in Italy it is a tie between the gelato and the pizza. You can find gelato in almost every town here. Here, the pizza is cooked in a stone oven. Yum!!!

Even now, I am getting ready to move to Senegal next year. I am very excited to go, and I can’t wait to find out what it is like. Africa, here I come!!!

Guest Post by Elizabeth Pepper, age 12, military child

Advocacy on Capitol Hill: a military spouse’s perspective on speaking up for her own

Advocacy on Capitol Hill: a military spouse's perspective on speaking up for her ownFor more than 44 years our staff and volunteers, comprised mostly of military family members, have built a reputation for being the leading experts on military family issues. I had the pleasure of joining the Association’s Government Relations team last summer when my husband and I PCSed into the Washington D.C. area. As an active-duty military spouse, I have a vested interest in our unique population and hope to shed light on just one exciting facet of this position.

Currently, I am working with the offices of Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS), Representative Matt Cartwright (D-17th/PA), and Representative Rob Wittman (R-1st/VA) to support legislation titled Military Spouse Job Continuity Act. This legislation provides a tax credit to a military spouse to offset the cost of a new state-required license after a government-ordered move. Not only do we support federal legislation, but we also work to support military spouse licensing on the state level. Our Association believes that state legislation can expedite the employment process and Congress can alleviate the financial burden with a tax credit.

Looking at my portfolio for the Association, I focus on quality of life issues that pertain to military spouse education, employment, credentialing, financial literacy, commissaries, exchange, relocation, housing, and military construction.

I truly enjoy working with different Congressional offices to discuss issues of importance to military families. The past several weeks have been very busy! I have had the unique pleasure of visiting Capitol Hill to meet with Congressional staff from Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Virginia. Our Association’s accomplishments have made us a trusted resource for families and the Nation’s leaders. I look forward to visiting and working with other Congressional offices to ensure that our military families are taken care of and help communicate the stories that we hear from military families that are located around the world.

Continue to follow our Association’s advocacy work on our website, here on our blog (subscribe at top right!), and our Facebook and Twitter pages.

ccPosted by Christine Gallagher, Government Relations Deputy Director at the National Military Family Association

So you’re going OCONUS — what happens now?

So you're going OCONUS -- what happens now?Just over one year ago, we received orders for our upcoming PCS. Instead of the familiar post we anticipated—GERMANY was our destination! While unexpected, it was not entirely unwelcome. After all, an opportunity to live in Europe seemed too adventurous to pass up! Once our initial glee subsided, I was suddenly overwhelmed with questions, worries, and uncertainties. I pored over the tiny print in my husband’s orders thinking that there must be something in there to answer my questions or tell me what my next step was. (Take my word…there wasn’t much in there to help!)

Where would we live? Is it true the German homes are all tiny stairwell housing? Could I bring my minivan? Do I need to learn German? Do I need to leave all of my furniture behind in storage? How will we get there? What about the dog? Do I need to buy new electronic devices and small kitchen appliances in 220v? What the heck is Command Sponsorship? What is in a CS packet? Do we need passports? [Does your brain hurt yet? Just remembering all of this makes mine ache a bit!]

I searched the Garrison webpages and checked out the newcomer guides for bits of information, but I got frustrated trying to piece it together. I spoke with friends that had been OCONUS and made contact with a few people that were in Germany to find more answers. What I really wanted was for someone to take my hand, tell me to stop worrying and give me a few steps to get started in this crazy PCS process. Why wasn’t there a handbook titled “So You’re Going OCONUS?” Well, here it is, my fellow OCONUS adventurers and worriers…a handbook to get you started!

So, You’re Going OCONUS…

Step 1. Take a deep breath and squeal with glee because ADVENTURE is coming!

Step 2. Take a deep breath and hang on to your sense of humor, because getting there may be stressful!

Step 3. You have a million questions right now. Scribble them all down so you don’t worry about forgetting them and then put the list away for now. I promise, you’ll get to it ALL!

Step 4. Determine whether it is an unaccompanied tour or if you can apply for Command Sponsorship. Command Sponsorship means that the military command is sponsoring your extended stay in a foreign country. (Some locations, like Germany, are nearly all Command Sponsored. Other areas are required to be unaccompanied tours. Each area has different rules regarding length of tours, remaining time in service, etc.) Your Personnel Officer or Assignments Manager should be able to help you with this.

Step 5. Schedule a physical (or well-woman exam) for all dependents, if they have not had one in the last 12 months. For children under two, a well-child exam is required within the last six months. This is to ensure that everyone’s medical records are up-to-date.

Step 6. Schedule your Exceptional Family Member Program Screening. There is usually a packet of papers (medical histories, medical records releases, and developmental screenings) to fill out, so pick this ahead of time. If you have civilian providers off-post, the screening will likely also require records from those providers, so make sure you get record releases for them as well. The EFMP Screening is to ensure the area you will be living has adequate medical services for your family’s needs. The screening will usually be done at the nearest Military Treatment Facility.

Step 7. Start the passport process. Official passports are required for travel and can take anywhere from 6-12 weeks to be completed. You must apply through the passport office at your nearest military installation. They can be used to travel from the US to the country on your orders only. Tourist passports are recommended if you plan to do any additional travelling during your assignment. Bear in mind, birth certificates get mailed off to the Department of State with new passport applications. So, unless you have extra certified copies of your birth certificates, you must wait for one passport (with birth certificate) to arrive before you do the other passport. I would suggest applying for your official one first; without it you won’t go anywhere, but your service member still has to arrive by that report date! (Tip: Depending on the state, requesting extra certified birth certificates is easy to do online, inexpensive, and arrives quickly.)

Step 8. Start researching your destination! Contact the Relocation Office for information. Next, work those military friends! The odds are good that someone’s been there recently or knows someone who has; use those connections as a resource. Official and unofficial Facebook pages have popped up for each location. Try searching the installation name in Facebook and see what pages exist. Making contact with people in the area is a great way to get school recommendations, housing suggestions, get a feel for size/storage options in the new housing areas, etc. A word of caution: be sure to fact check any advice you are given with the appropriate agency before making any decision. (For example, check with Transportation before you sell all your furniture because Suzy Q. told you that you can only bring 2,000 lbs of household goods with you!) And, of course, be sensible with your personal information as you make contacts.

Step 9. Start looking at the calendar and think about your travel plans. Your transportation office will be able to give you delivery estimates for your vehicle, household goods, and unaccompanied baggage.

Step 10. Remember that list from Step 3? Get it back out and take another look at it. I’ll bet you’ve eliminated quite a few of your questions by now! Go ahead, congratulate yourself! And enjoy the adventure!

What tips would you offer to military families moving overseas?

Posted by Jennifer Herbek, Volunteer with the National Military Family Association

Hmm, what to do with your tax refund? 6 tips for military families

Hmm, what to do with your tax refund? 6 tips for military familiesWill your family receive a tax refund this year? The average tax refund is around $2,800 and slightly more for direct deposit refunds. Even if your refund is more or less than the average, we have a few tips to make your money work for you.

Military families encounter fluctuations in household income for a variety of reasons including: deployment and training incentives; bonuses; loss of income from a spouse’s job; or cost of living adjustments after a military move. A tax refund may provide the funds you need to help account for the changes in household income. Here are some tips to consider:

  • Review your emergency savings funds. Do you have money set aside for unexpected expenses? Out of pocket costs for an upcoming Permanent Change of Station (PCS)? Consider starting or adding money to a designated emergency savings account.
  • Pay down debt. Use your refund to pay down or pay off a high interest credit card.
  • Contribute to your retirement plan. An extra contribution to your service member’s Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) or your own retirement account can go a long way.
  • Deployment savings. If your service member is deployed, consider adding your refund to the Savings Deposit Program. A total of $10,000 may be deposited each deployment and will earn 10% interest annually.
  • Save for college. If you have children, you can contribute to a college 529 savings plan. Going back to school as an adult? You can put your refund towards a 529 plan for yourself, too.
  • Don’t spend your refund before your receive it. Wait for your refund to arrive before you spend the funds. You can track the status of your federal refund online.

Before you are tempted to spend the extra money on a shopping spree, review your current financial situation. It may be helpful to talk to a financial counselor at your local military installation or through Military OneSource to help you decide how to put your refund to good use.

How will you use your tax refund? 

katiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Information Manager at the National Military Family Association